LETTER FROM A SOLDIER IN THE ARMY
Balfour U.S. General Hospital,
Portsmoruth [sic, Portsmouth], Va.,
April 14th, 1865
Dear Mother: No doubt you have heard of my being wounded before this reaches you, as a kind lady wrote a letter for me at Point of Rocks when I was there. She was connected with the Christian Commission.
My wound is very painful even now, and I write this lying on my back in my cot. You will understand the nature and extent of my injury from the diagnosis of my surgeon which I will copy: “Wound caused by a pistol ball entering one half inch from the seventh cervical vertebra—left side—in a perpendicular direction.” I tell you it was a severe operation to extract the ball, much more severe than putting in, as they gave me nothing to render me insensible to the pain; and it was lodged in a depth of four inches, requiring a great deal of cutting before it could be removed. But I suppose you are anxious to know how and where I got hurt.
Just before the campaign against Richmond commenced, on the 25th of March , our party of scouts was detailed as body guard and guides to [Brigadier] General [John] Turner, on an expedition to the Chickahominy, to secure the passages, lay pontoon bridges, &c. for Sheridan to cross on his way to the army of the James.1 Nothing of importance occurred until we reached Long Bridge on the Chickahominy, when we were sent with Capt. Carr of Turner’s staff on a scout to Jones’ Ford, to learn if Sheridan had been there, and also if the river could be crossed. Two miles from the Ford we learned Sheridan had passed, and also learned that rebel cavalry were at the Ford. We had just crossed an open space and were entering the timber when we met the Johnnies—five of us to fifteen of them. We were armed with Spencer rifles, seven shooters, and felt quite equal to the task; so pouring in a volley we charged, driving them into the woods and emptying several saddles.
We passed on to the Ford, but on our return found the rebs attempting to cut off our retreat. Giving them another volley, we pushed on. I was eager, however, to get a good shot or two; so checking my horse I blazed away twice. The other boys had now about seventy yards the start of me, and the rebels close at hand; but my horse exceeded all my expectations, fairly distancing the enemy and overtaking two of my companions. The Captain and Sergeant were now far ahead, being well mounted and going like the wind. I lost my hat, and had just passed the two hindmost when the road made a bend and ascended a slight elevation, among some scattered timber, which gave us command of the road. Calling to the boys that we could whip them right there, I wheeled my horse, dropped the reins on the pommel of the saddle, and as the first of the pursuits appeared, I laid him out to rest. Soon the whole gang were popping away; when, to my surprise, I found that only one of the boys was on the ground, the others scouring off at full speed. The balls flew quite lively around our ears, but I soon laid another Johnny out. Just then, Morris, who had been firing quite briskly, got a cartridge fast in his carbine, and turned and fled. I leveled again and fired, but before I could ascertain the result, was surprised to hear, “surrender you d—-d Yankee; and glancing round saw that the rebel Captain, taking advantage of my exposed situation, had come down a by path on my flank. My carbine missed fire; — and as I turned to flee, at the same time seizing my pistol, he shot, at ten paces distance, stunning and almost unhorsing me. I clung to the saddle, and putting spurs most unmercifully to my horse, soon increased the distance between us. His second shot struck my ear, cutting off my mustache and driving it into my mouth. These were his best although he fired six time. Soon after overtaking the boys, one of them had his horse killed and surrendered. — The Captain advised me to do the same; but, although the blood was running down my back and off my saddle, I replied: “They can never get more than my dead body.” After leaving a guard for the prisoner, there were only three rebs left, and they soon gave up the pursuit. — When we arrived at camp, they took me from the saddle and dressed my wound. Next day I suffered terrible agony, traveling over a corduroy road in an ambulance to the hospital on James river.2
After eleven days the ball was extracted. I still suffer a great deal, but hope that I shall not lose the use of my left arm.
Now I must close with one regret, that I was not with the gallant old Fifth [Pennsylvania Cavalry] to enter Richmond.3 Oh! It were worth the remainder of my life to have been there; but man may propose, God will dispose, and blessed be His holy name, that this day I am not lying with many of our brave boys beneath the ungrateful clods of the Virginia lowlands. God bless the Christian Commission and the Sanitary too. — You do well to support them, especially the former. * * * J. C. Grubbs4
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Nadine Kirchner.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: Major General Phil Sheridan, fresh off of his masterful Valley Campaign of 1864, took his two divisions of cavalry from the Shenandoah Valley to the vicinity of Richmond and Petersburg during the course of March 1865. Grant’s plans called for Sheridan’s cavalry to be used in the final offensive against Petersburg, which kicked off only a few days after the events of this letter. Because Sheridan was approaching from the north, Grant hoped to prepare a welcome for his forces once they reached the area. The Army of the James held the lines north of the James River, and so Turner’s Division of the XXIV Corps was one of the units nearest to where Sheridan would arrive. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I have coined this small fight the “Affair Near Jones’ Bridge.” If anyone has more information, please CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry and other units belonging to the Army of the James entered Richmond on the morning of April 3, 1865. ↩
- “Letter from a Soldier in the Army.” Weekly Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon). June 5, 1865, p. 1 col. 6 ↩